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President Obama wants us to argue about the special relationship

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Reprinted from Mondoweiss

President Obama
President Obama
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In the last few days, something remarkable has taken place in American politics. The president of the United States has made a point of taking on the special relationship with Israel and the Israel lobby in his effort to defend the Iran deal, and supporters of the special relationship have struck back hard, accusing him of anti-Semitism. Elliott Abrams, Lee Smith and Tablet magazine for starters.

What's remarkable is that mainstream supporters of the deal have left the president to do this heavy lifting on his own. They have largely ignored his pointed comments: that the Democrats are under pressure from big donors to oppose the Iran Deal, that the same moneyed groups pushed the Iraq war, that it would be an abrogation of his constitutional duty if he sided with Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and that Netanyahu's intervention in American politics is unprecedented.

The exceptions are Eli Clifton working hard to expose AIPAC as warmongers at Lobelog, and David Bromwich attacking the Congress-people who are Netanyahu's "marionettes" at Huffington Post.

But generally the liberal press has been embarrassed by Obama's comments or tried to wish them away. The New York Times put AIPAC on its front page the other day, but allowed David Makovsky, an ardent supporter of Israel, to say that some of Obama's statements are "dangerous." David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, is supporting the deal, but he has said on twitter that the emphasis on the Israel lobby is disturbing to him. Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli-American, tries to dispose of the criticisms of Obama by arguing that he can't have any objection to dual loyalty in this day and age:

"The very idea that there's something wrong with dual loyalty is obsolete. It's a fossilized relic of single-identity patriotism to the patria from centuries past. Nowadays, people migrate, have mixed heritage, multiple citizenships, meta-state communities and even multiple sexualities."

Ali Gharib backs her up, saying that conservative critics of Obama are attributing ideas he doesn't have to him. While Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine says much the same; he denies that Obama was talking about Jewish pro-Israel donors when it was reported in the New York Times that the president was lobbying Democratic senators to stick with him:

"The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain, according to the senator."

Elliott Abrams seized on that same report to say that the president was mining anti-Semitism, by talking about the Israel lobby.

So the president is out there on his own. I believe he wants us, the American people, to talk about the Israel lobby and whose interests it's supporting at this critical moment, so that he can solidify the most important foreign policy move of his administration; but the conversation isn't really happening. Last night on Hardball, Steve Kornacki led a discussion of Chuck Schumer's opposition to the deal in which he and Michael Tomasky acknowledged "political" pressures on Schumer from his constituents, but they left it at that. They didn't say what those pressures are -- Israel. They didn't say that Schumer calls himself Israel's Shomer, or guardian, didn't even say that he is Jewish, something that the networks have been reporting because it's relevant. Just as Laura Rozen of al Monitor cites Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz's Jewishness in embracing his support of the deal yesterday.

I want the president's conversation to happen. I want Americans to talk about the Israel lobby's influence due to wealthy donors and talk about pro-Israeli activists' loyalty to Netanyahu over the president. I think this important discussion can happen without anti-Semitism for a simple reason. Zionism is not Judaism. Jewish Americans do not all support Netanyahu. Some of us don't even support Israel. Anti-Zionists don't believe in the idea of a Jewish state any more than they'd support a Christian state in the U.S. Myself, I became an anti-Zionist in recent years because my liberal American values impelled me to demand that Palestinians living under Israeli rule should have the right to vote for their government.

There is actual ideological diversity inside the Jewish community, but many leading Jews do not want to discuss this openly. Some because they ardently believe that Zionism is the Jewish religion today. Others fear that by opening up this conversation, it will crack the American support system that Israel has always depended upon.

The ardent Michael Oren really believes it's anti-Semitic to criticize the Israel lobby because the Israel lobby is merely the voice of The Jewish People reborn in their homeland. He writes:

"From an early age, I had an abiding -- Freud would call it oceanic -- love of the Jewish people. Whatever our differences, I insisted, and however disparately we practice our religion, we still belonged to the same tribe... When the American Jews of my youth contributed to Israel under the banner 'We Are One,' I believed it."

I find that belief really tribal and old-fashioned; but it led Oren, an American-Israeli, to rush his book out this spring so that he could appeal to American Jews to work against the Iran Deal. The same thing Netanyahu did last week by having a special speech for Jews. The Israel lobby is necessary Jewish power for these right-wing Zionists. And by the way, Oren also believes that the Jewish "homeland" extends to the biblical lands of the West Bank.

Elliott Abrams is another believer in Jewish people-hood. He has said that Jews are a special nation who must stand apart from the nation we're in:

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Philip Weiss is a longtime writer and journalist in New York. He co-edits a website on Israel/Palestine, Mondoweiss.net, which he founded in order to foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy. He is currently working on a novel about the US in Australia during WW2.

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